ESW 2002 Question-of-the-Day
Monday, October 7
Q: We all know that Texas football is a powerhouse…how is Texas a powerhouse in other ways?
A: Texas is a powerhouse of energy--oil, natural gas, coal, water, wind, solar, and even landfill gas!
Oil and natural gas (hydrocarbons) are the payload for thousands of geologists and engineers in Texas. Oil companies drill wells and pump hydrocarbons from underground rocks and send it to refineries. Refineries turn the oil into energy-packed products, such as gasoline, which powers our cars, trucks, and boats. Natural gas is sold to electricity companies, which in turn is sold to us as electricity for heating, cooling, and providing power our homes and buildings.
Coal geologists and mining engineers locate and mine coal, which is sold to power plants. Coal energy is similar to oil and gas energy in that it has to be burned to produce energy. Burning coal provides a source of electricity.
Water energy includes hydroelectric power from lakes, rivers, oceans, and technologies that use saline water. Typically, water dammed in a lake or reservoir is released through turbines and generators to produce electricity. In Texas, reservoirs are commonly built for municipal water supply and flood control systems; hydroelectric production is secondary.
Wind power has been used in Texas for more than 100 years! There are more than 80,000 windmills in Texas today, harnessing the energy of wind at wind farms and on private property. Wind power turns the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical or electrical energy. Mechanical energy generated from the wind was used thousands of years ago in Persia to pump water from the ground. Today's wind farms are located in windy places near utility power lines. The electricity that is generated on windmills is then either added into the electricity grid or stored in batteries.
The Sun's energy helps our plants to grow and to dry our clothes hung out on a clothesline, among other things. To capture and store this energy we use photovoltaic cells (PVs), which soak up the sun's energy and generate electricity. PVs were first developed for the U.S. space program. They are now being used to power a wide array of products: telecommunication equipment, school crosswalk warning signs, calculators, refrigerators, gate openers, railroad switches, weather stations, emergency power generators, water pumps, homes, offices, outdoor signs, lighting at bus stops…
Landfill gas is a small yet valuable resource, turning a potential nuisance into a usable product. Several Texas landfills, including Sunset Farms Landfill in Austin, are capturing and using landfill gas. What is landfill gas? Half of all gases emitted by a landfill is methane, or natural gas. This natural gas can be used in the same way as hydrocarbon natural gas: to heat our homes and buildings, is sold and transported via natural gas pipelines, and is used for electric power generation.
For more information about solar, wind, and landfill gas, visit the Texas State Energy Conservation Office Website at www.InfinitePower.org. Information about hydroelectric power is available on the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association's Website at www.treia.org/hydro.html.
 
Tuesday, October 8
Q: How can you get iron balls in the ground that DON'T come from outer space?
A: In the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs lived in Texas, a great sea spread across the central United States area (of course, there was not a United States or a Texas then). It was very shallow and warm. Muddy, chalky lime formed on the bottom.
There were zillions of fossils, and you can find them almost everywhere around the Austin area today.
Sometimes, the decaying organic matter in a fossilizing bone or shell caused iron and sulfur to combine together and form a fossil made of marcasite (like pyrite or fool's gold). Sometimes the marcasite crystals would keep growing into a big, spiny ball in the mud. As the mud hardened into limestone, the spiny balls oxidized and became the same thing as common rust.

Today, you can dig in the soil next to Austin area streams and find these iron oxide balls, as big as a golf ball or even bigger. They look dark brown and lumpy, just like a meteorite, but they come from the ground and not from outer space.

 
Wednesday, October 9
Q: Did all prehistoric "Texans" live in tipis?
A: Not everyone! Some early villagers in East Texas constructed thatched houses. Adobe houses were built by prehistoric peoples in far West Texas. Early dwellers of the Trans-Pecos region selected natural rock shelters for their homes. In certain areas of the Texas Panhandle, villagers actually built rock slab houses--some on top of tall mesas! Many prehistoric groups in Texas were nomadic, moving from place to place, searching for plant and animal foods. These nomads built temporary hide- or brush-covered shelters that could be constructed and dismantled quickly. Hide-covered tipis were commonly used by nomadic Plains Indian tribes during historic times.
Archeological excavations help archeologists to learn about the way prehistoric peoples lived in ancient times. Recognizable ruins, clay-lined floors, storage pits, and "post molds" (small circular stains in the ground where posts once stood) are the types of clues that archeologists encounter at prehistoric house sites. The written accounts of early European explorers and colonists also mention the types of shelters used by the Native Americans they encountered.
 
Thursday, October 10
Q: Where are the oldest chimneys in Central Texas?
A: A volcano can be described as a chimney (or vent) that connects a reservoir of magma buried deep in the earth with the surface. Increases in pressure cause the magma to travel to the surface through this "chimney." In the late Cretaceous Period (80 million years ago), an active volcano known as Pilot Knob erupted violently in the then shallow sea that covered Central Texas. Pilot Knob was one of around 75 volcanoes of the same age that were scattered around Central Texas from Waco to Austin, to San Antonio and Del Rio. All of these volcanoes have been extinct for millions of years.
Pilot Knob is located just east of McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin. All that remains of this now extinct volcano is a low hill and ash beds from the volcanic eruptions interbedded with the limestones. Pilot Knob is located on private property but can be viewed from roads around the park.
 
Friday, October 11
Q: Who lived in Texas before the Texans?
Archeologists are scientists who study the lives of people that lived in the past. Prehistoric archeologists study people who lived before Europeans "discovered" the new world and began creating a written history. Historic archeologists study people that lived during a time when written documents were being created.
Prehistoric archeologists have found evidence that people were living in Texas over 10,000 years ago. These people are known as Paleoindians. Although their living sites have been found along with some of the tools they used, and occasionally, burials containing the remains of some of these people, little is known about their daily life except that they lived close to the land in hunting and gathering groups.
Archeologists have identified the tools, living sites, and garbage, known as artifacts or cultural materials, of groups from the Paleoindian times through the historic period when people of European ancestry began to settle in Texas. Although the Spanish claimed Texas as part of Mexico, they only settled a small part of the state. They established missions and there were a few Spanish ranchers that moved into the area. The French traded with the Native Americans that lived in east Texas but they were not successful at settling the land either. Historic archeologists study the remains of these groups in order to learn how they lived and how they interacted with each other.
Although some individuals began to settle in Texas shortly after 1800, European settlement began in earnest in 1824, but these people were not Texans, they were considered Mexican citizens because the area still belonged to Mexico. By 1835 these people had become uncomfortable under the control of the Mexican government and by 1836 they had rebelled and Texas became a republic. The area had been known as Tejas previously and the rebels called themselves Texians. Today people who live in Texas call themselves Texans, but the first Texans were here over 10,000 years before us.

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